Introducing CAD to our team

So this upcoming 2020-2021 season my team (3374) is going to be incorporating CAD more seriously, as well as getting our first CNC machine. We’re very excited for this next step for our team. This isn’t our first time attempting to incorporate CAD seriously though… Currently we are leaning towards Onshape for its ability to allow multiple people to work on a project at the same time, etc. Seeing as we have had trouble training people and just overall getting people to commit to CADing— I was wondering if any other teams are switching or currently using Onshape, and if you have any advice for introducing and preparing people for a new approach of CAD!

Edit: Sorry, meant CNC router! Not machine


@marcusbernstein is the go to guy for this but I can share what I did.

This past season I was in charge of switching my team from pen/paper design to Onshape because we got a CNC router (looks like we are in the same boat). I taught onshape alongside one of our alumni through weekly lectures at school in the summer and fall. We went through the basics but didn’t get a lot of progress unfortunately. I’d rate it a 6.5/10 because we did CAD the robot but a lot of learning was done in season rather than before. We found they didn’t know how to apply their knowledge of how to actually build robots in CAD (just knew how to do the steps apart from each other), so this year we are trying offseason projects that will build technical knowledge, documentation skills and CAD skills all in one. Students will pair up and work with a group of project mentors (older students and mentors) to get their project done. One big thing I would recommend is trying to get mentors as fluent in CAD as possible. If they know the program, they can help students. If they don’t, they cannot help students and also cannot help continue CAD on the team.

Marcus did some online lectures for Onshape those would probably be a good starting place to get people to learn CAD. From there I would have them do projects so they can learn to apply their knowledge.

If you have questions about CAD->CAM->CNC I would be happy to talk to you about it I was also in charge of that this year.

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My team is also trying to incorporate some more CAD. We are using Onshape because you can access it on any computer and you can manage your team’s files easily. The approach we are using to educate students in CAD is doing simple projects such as making gussets and frames. We are also planning to CAD our this year’s robot again as an exercise.

@burakdemirelli posted a thread about teaching CAD and attached their curriculum Teaching CAD | Suggestions & Best Provens
You might find it useful because there is a timeline.

973 RAMP, 1114’s Solidworks series, 1678’s workshops, and 971’s workshops are also great resources. Onshape is also hosting webinars for FRC teams right now.

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Also note that Onshape has their own tutorials published. I haven’t gone through them myself but have heard good things from those who have.

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Personally, I ran through basically all of their intro videos when I picked up Onshape a couple years ago. They’re really very good, and I point students to them in addition to hands on training doing FRC-specific stuff.

As Julia mentioned, the best place to start learning Onshape is with the Onshape learning pathways, particularly the Introduction to CAD and Onshape Fundamentals: CAD pathways.

From there, I would add the the ongoing webinars also mentioned above and found here

Keep in mind that learning CAD/Onshape really has nothing to do with learning how to design robots. For that you will need to find FRC specific resources on designing mechanisms and other robot parts. Many of these will not be in Onshape, but that shouldn’t matter for the points to get across.

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Different groups of people are going to need different types of instruction, so I would encourage you to look through all of the resources people have linked in this thread to see what you think would be best for your team. My team has used a lot of the resources linked above (specifically, I can vouch for the Onshape tutorials, 973 RAMP, as well as 1678 and 971’s workshops, though outside of the Onshape tutorials, from what I remember, they’re a little higher level than basic CAD.

With that said, my team is going to be running online summer camps for both design (with Onsahpe) and programming (separate sessions, to be clear). The beginner level of these camps are designed to teach people who have never used CAD or never written a Java program, and will provide hands-on learning with a high teacher to student ratio, if that’s what you guys are looking for. In the past, we’ve faced similar problems with online lectures and workshops as what @jago21 was talking about (people don’t quite learn how to apply their knowledge to real robots until they actually CAD real robots), so our camps get students to actually CAD a mechanism by the end of the session.

The camps are designed for people who need a bit more structured approach than following along with a traditional online course that lets you do things at your own pace. We’ll publish more details about these camps in the next few days, but DM me if this sounds like what you’re looking for.

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We had almost no interest from our team to do CAD. I’ve done CAD work for 15 years now.

Finally I just forced it on them last fall with some pretty good success. Multiple students are interested in doing more next year and we had two who were dedicated to it through this years build season.

  1. If you don’t know Onshape yourself, go through their tutorials first
  2. Go through YETI’s Ultimate West Coast Guide series. It’s about an hour total, but you should go through a couple of times. They use Solidworks but the method transfers very well
  3. Build a WCD yourself 3-4 times before talking to the students
  4. I made it a mandatory exercise that we would build a WCD together. I set up a folder where they could save their designs and had already imported all the other files so I know they would work.
  5. I bypassed the calculations part with the students for this round so they could focus on the build.

Most everyone had a full WCD without having done any of the tutorials before. At 1.5-2 hrs per session, it took about 4-5 sessions. People that were now interested, started looking at the OS tutorials themselves.

We’ve been in your situation and are thrilled with the progress we made in the last couple of years. Here are some thoughts:

  • Start small - one or two invested people (minimum 1 student, 1 mentor) is perfectly fine to start. Students will get on board when they see how it improves the team.
  • People keep mentioning the onShape Fundamentals tutorials - take the time to work through them. They are well worth it.
  • We worked on designing flywheel shooters (all the spare wiffle balls from Steamworks helped). Making it in CAD, using the CNC router to cut out the parts in 1/8" plywood allowed us lots of opportunities to develop specific skills and the motivation of seeing the balls flying kept people interested in learning. Thankfully that work paid off with our shooter this year.
  • Prioritize - we made a conscious decision the last couple of years to use the KOP drive train so we could focus our development on our other mechanisms. We have designed and built other drive trains in the off season and will implement them in the future when the time is right but it is more effective to streamline your design and manufacturing workflow with small projects and then grow to bigger projects.
  • Use the CNC! Start with wood (I direct the school musicals so we use 1/8" plywood for our sets that is then used for making prototypes for the robotics team). Move on to Lexan and then move to aluminum. Keep a record of every job you do so you can fine tune your feeds and speeds to get better results. Again, prioritize. Most of the types of parts you cut in the build season (i.e. square tubing, gussets) should be the types of things you already have experience making.
  • Spend time going over mechanical design - many teams have posted CAD, photos and videos of their robots. Learn from the best. Don’t try to CAD a mechanism from scratch, find an existing mechanism and look at how they designed it. Take the time to make your version. Look at different ways of doing the same thing. Creating something new is possible when you’ve developed the skill set and the knowledge base to do it well.

For the last couple of weeks we’ve been running online tutorials for girls in our community from grade 5 to grade 10. The goal is for them to go through the entire process of designing, manufacturing, programming and assembling a small robot from scratch. Feel free to use the tutorials. The CAD is in onShape, CAM will be in Fusion and we use a Laguna CNC router for most of the parts.
Techno Girls MiniBot Tutorials
Good luck on your journey!


Onshape is a fantastic option for FRC teams. Highly recommended. It’s missing CAM, though. To use your CNC “machine” (whatever kind of machine it actually is), you’ll need CAM to convert CAD models to machine instructions. Autodesk Fusion 360 is a very capable CAM option and is free to use for FRC thanks to Autodesk. Exporting from Onshape to Fusion 360 is a bit of a pain, but Onshape is so good that it’s still worth it to run that hybrid solution rather than going with only Fusion 360 for integrated CAD/CAM.

Many good points have already been made in this thread. I’m going to re-emphasize some and put a different spin on some.

I see learning CAD for FRC in multiple steps:

  1. Learning the mechanics of using the CAD software to do CAD things. This is well covered by the free Onshape training series. I encourage all new users to go through this content. Don’t skip the training on collaboration features. Onshape makes this really seamless.

  2. Learning how to use CAD to do FRC-relevant things with FRC-relevant materials and parts. This becomes a lot easier if you have a mentor who is already skilled with CAD for some practical use and who has also learned about building FRC robots. They can lead workshops, make videos, or provide task assistance to help students progress from CAD skills to robot CAD skills. With Onshape, the FRC-built MKCAD parts library and FRC-built Featurescripts (search CD to find these) are huge advantages in this step.

  3. Learning to use CAD as part of the robot design process. This is making the transition from being able to efficiently CAD a robot that already exists to begin able to leverage CAD to design and manufacture a robot that has never existed. This takes time and experience. The right mentor can dramatically accelerate the process, but it’s possible to get there in more of a bootstrapping fashion over several seasons.

If you don’t have the mentor help for 2 and 3, some of the previous posts in this thread mention good public resources that can be useful for climbing the learning curve.

One of the best ways to get team members excited about CAD is how it opens up computerized manufacturing. Seeing CADed parts get made precisely on a CNC router/mill/lathe/laser/waterjet/etc. or a 3D printer is pretty motivational. Seeing those parts actually fit together and work in a mechanism is even better. Try right from the start to use CAD for practical purposes rather than as an afterthought, for “documentation”, or for just learning CAD. Even if it’s going to take a while to be designing entire robots in CAD, start out using CAD to make some critical parts. Keep working up to making mechanisms, subsystems, and eventually full robots.

It’s important to recognize that build season is not the best time to learn CAD. Learning is best done in the fall and putting the skills into practice and getting practical experience is what build season is for.

CAM has its own learning curve. Even if you have mentors who are mechanical engineers and know CAD, they may not necessarily know CAM. if they do, great, but if not, you might try to look for mentors or sponsors who are machinists or machine operators. There can be some separation between design and manufacturing in industry and you need both parts for FRC. Trade schools for advanced manufacturing can also be a good place to look for CAM help. I’ve seen fewer public training resources for CAM than for CAD, especially FRC-relevant resources. A good place to start if you are using Fusion 360 is with the videos produced by Lars Christensen.


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